The military government promises a return to civilian rule, but opponents argue changes would give excessive power to the president.
Malians will vote on Sunday in a referendum on changing the constitution that the military rulers and regional powers have said will pave the way to elections and a return to civilian rule.
The military government, which seized power in coups in 2020 and 2021, promised to hold the plebiscite as part of a transition to democracy under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Some of the changes in the committee-drafted constitution are contentious, with proponents saying they would strengthen fragile political institutions and opponents saying they would give excessive power to the president.
But regional bodies and the United Nations see the referendum as a crucial test of the military’s willingness to stick to the transition and hold a nationwide democratic process, particularly when violent religious groups are stepping up attacks.
“With this project, we are betting on the future of our state, the restoration of its authority, and the regained trust between institutions and citizens,” interim President Assimi Goita said in a televised speech on Friday.
“Now is the time to confirm our commitment to the new Mali,” Goita, in his trademark beret and military fatigues, added.
The draft includes updates that have been proposed in the past failed efforts to revise the constitution that supporters hope will reinforce democracy and address divisions, including the creation of a second parliamentary chamber to boost representation from across Mali.
The proposed establishment of a separate court of auditors for state spending will bring Mali in line with a directive from the West African Economic and Monetary Union from 2000.
But some opposition parties, pro-democracy groups and campaigners for the “No” vote say the non-democratically elected authorities, such as the military, have no right to oversee such a substantial constitutional overhaul.
They also say the proposed constitution hands excessive authority to the president, including over the legislative process.
“I am for a revision of the constitution but not this referendum. The legitimacy of the actors, the process … I think we could have done better,” lawyer Fousseini Ag Yehia told Reuters news agency in the capital, Bamako, on Saturday.
Provisional results are expected within 72 hours of the vote. Presidential elections are scheduled for February 2024.